You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Strange’ casts pic spell

Clarke's best-selling tome drawing H'w'd interest

“The Lord of the Rings” and the “Harry Potter” franchise ignited Hollywood’s love affair with British fantasy books. So it’s no surprise that several studios are chasing the rights to “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” a novel by first-timer Susanna Clarke about two feuding magicians set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.

It might sound like a children’s book, but its 800 pages — dense, erudite and Dickensian — are definitely for grownups. Published Sept. 8 in the U.S., it debuted at No. 9 in the New York Times bestseller list and is rising to No. 3 this week, an extraordinary achievement for a debut Brit novel not even out in its own country yet. It appears Sept. 30 in Blighty, and is already on the long list for the Booker Prize.

“What’s remarkable about this book is that it’s becoming a publishing phenomenon on three fronts that are normally distinct — as a literary work, as a fantasy novel and as a bestseller,” says Nick Marston, Clarke’s agent at Curtis Brown.

He’s being bombarded with calls and emails from Hollywood producers. His original plan was to wait until the book’s U.K. publication to solicit bids, but his hand looks likely to be forced sooner by studio suitors.

Predictably, “Lord of the Rings” producer New Line and “Harry Potter” studio Warners are beating loudest at the door, along with DreamWorks and Sony. Marston says the deal won’t just be about price, but also the degree of creative control for Clarke. “It’s set in Britain, and I really think it should be developed over here,” he says.

“Jonathan Strange” took Clarke, a 43-year-old editor of cookbooks, a decade to write. She’s now working on a follow-up with some of the same characters, making the book even more tempting to filmmakers as a potential franchise.

Hands delivers “Rocket”

Guy Hands, the swashbuckling venture capitalist whose $1 billion million takeover of Odeon and UCI has made him Europe’s biggest cinema owner, is commonly described as a newcomer to the movie business. But that’s not strictly true.

A couple of years back, Hands, who heads Terra Firma Capital Partners, dipped into his own pocket to back “Crocodile Dundee 3,” as well as bankrolling two smaller British films from producer Mark Shorrock, with mixed results.

“Crocodile Dundee 3” reportedly made Hands a profit. But David Blair‘s “Tabloid,” a satire on trash TV starring Matthew Rhys, John Hurt and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, seemed to have disappeared without trace after Hands hosted a flashy party at the pic’s East London location during the production in early 2001. It has finally been picked up by a few foreign distribs, though not in Britain.

There’s more hope for “The Rocket Post,” a long-delayed $10 million romance about a young German scientist testing his technology on a remote Scottish island just before WWII. The pic, also shot in 2001, popped up in this year’s Cannes market after a troubled three years of post-production. In August it won the Grand Prize at the Stony Brook Film Festival in Long Island.

OK, that’s not exactly the Palme d’Or, but it’s some kind of a success for a movie that seemed cursed to remain forever in limbo when its 56-year-old director Stephen Whittaker, making his feature debut, died in the middle of editing.

Hands and Shorrock wrangled long and hard over its completion. But in the end it was Hands who held the purse strings, and his vision for the movie won out. He held some test screenings in New York after Whittaker’s death, and subsequently paid for reshoots.

Hands even coined a new authorial credit for himself — “creative director,” as well as executive producer — and had to be talked out of putting it in the film’s opening titles.

The surprise is that this hexed experience didn’t put him off movies for good. Perhaps it taught him the bricks-and-mortar end of the biz is where the real money is made. But now, at least, he should have the muscle to get “Rocket Post” booked into a few cinemas.

More Film

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” based on the memoir of the late Lee Israel, topped the screenplays [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

  • ABA_062_DAU_0060_v0409.87501 – Rosa Salazar stars as

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' Wins Dismal President's Day Weekend

    Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” dominated in North America, but its opening weekend win isn’t leaving the box office with much to celebrate. Tracking services estimate that this will be one of the lowest grossing President’s Day weekends in years. Ticket sales are on pace to be the smallest bounty for the holiday frame [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content